Hungarian Holocaust Survivors/Heirs Pursue Restitution From U.S. Government for Gold Train Assets

MIAMI – Hungarian Holocaust survivors and their heirs today filed Irvin Rosner, et al. v. United States of America in the United States District Court in Miami. The class action lawsuit - the first of its kind - seeks return of, or compensation for, personal property of the plaintiffs stolen by the Hungarian Nazi government and shipped West on a train (Gold Train) seized in Austria by the United States Army at the end of World War II.

The lawsuit asserts the United States made no effort to return valuable personal assets and did not truthfully respond to the postwar Hungarian government and a delegation of Hungarian Jews who sought information about the property. The lawsuit refers to public documents which show the assets were inventoried first by the Nazis and later by the U.S. Army which had obtained lists of the owners. Accordingly, plaintiffs seek restitution and damages yet to be determined.

Long-buried U.S. government documents and recent reports by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States (Presidential Commission) indicate the 24-boxcar-loads of gold, jewelry, household items, works of art, clothes and other material was seized by the U.S. Army in May 1945. The treasures - including oriental rugs and oil paintings - were wrongfully classified as "enemy property" as well as unidentifiable property, enabling the U.S. Army to violate its rules calling for property to be returned to its rightful owners. U.S. Army Major General Harry J. Collins and other senior officers, for instance, requisitioned the finest furniture, china, paintings and other Gold Train items to furnish their military government offices and homes, according to the Presidential Commission and documents obtained by plaintiff's counsel. Most of the requisitioned property was not returned, and numerous other articles were sold, looted by military and other personnel, and otherwise disposed of improperly, the complaint asserts. The complaint seeks a full accounting of the property, as well as restitution.

The Gold Train's history first received public attention in late 1999 when the Presidential Commission issued a press release on its investigation of the matter. Although the Presidential Commission, which concluded its work on January 16, 2001, acknowledged U.S. responsibility for the Gold Train treasures, it proposed no method for returning identifiable property or otherwise compensating the original owners from whom the assets were stolen and then withheld for half a century.

Among the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Regina Baskin, who at age 16 was imprisoned at the Bergen-Belsen death camp at the same time as diarist Anne Frank, and Leo Fettman, who at age 19 was imprisoned at Auschwitz and subjected to experiments by Dr. Joseph Mengele, the notorious "Dr. Death." Several named plaintiffs reside in Miami-Dade County, FL, including Irving Rosner who survived Nazi forced labor camps and returned to his Hungarian home at age 20 to find his family had died at Auschwitz and all their possessions had been confiscated by the nation's Nazi government. These possessions included individually identifiable quantities of fine fabrics that he used in his tailoring business. The plaintiffs represent the "class" of Hungarian Jewish families whose property and precious heirlooms were confiscated by the Nazis, never to be returned. Of Hungary's pre-war population of 800,000 Jews, only 200,000 survived the Holocaust and remained in Hungary, according to a Presidential Commission document.

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